Shabnam Nasimi is President of the Conservative Friends of Afghanistan, and is Ward Captain and CWO representative of Lewisham Deptford Conservative Association.
Conservative Friends of Afghanistan (CFoA) has a crystal-clear mission statement in seeking to build stronger ties between the Conservative Party, British Afghans, and Afghanistan.
CFoA is a working example of the progressive nature of the modern Conservative Party. The group will be launched in Parliament, Jubilee Room on 26th March 2018, in conjunction with the Afghan New Year, from 5pm to 6:30pm.
Over the last few years the Conservative Party has made huge leaps in winning support from ethnic minority communities, appealing to a far wider base than ever before. However, more needs to be done. We are, after all, a One Nation party and all peoples are part of this one nation, regardless of race, colour or creed.
The Afghan diaspora are a large community in the UK, accounting for up to 250,000 people – or more, to put it another way, more than two full parliamentary constituencies.
Afghans are very much a conservative people, with a small c. There is an emphasis on family, community, self-reliance, charity, hard work, religion and business – all true Conservative values. They should and could be the most enthusiastic supporters of the Conservatives. It is our duty to engage with this community, and all communities who often feel marginalised from the political system, to demonstrate that their values are also Conservative values.
CFoA aims to engage the Afghan diaspora in political issues so not only can they have a say in issues that affect them, but they feel represented in, and increase their understanding of, the British political system.
The Casey Review report, published in December 2016, points to salient issues for the British Afghan community, including challenges in integrating into British society, lack of English language skills, worrying levels of segregation and socio-economic exclusion, mental health and trauma from decades of war in Afghanistan, and that societal discrimination still exists in Britain which has yet to be fully addressed by political parties. The less integrated we are as a nation, the greater the economic and social costs we face, and central to CFoA’s aims is tackling social exclusion and promoting integration.
It is interesting to note that the five constituencies in West London with the highest British Afghan population, including Hounslow, Ealing, and Brent, are without a Conservative MP, and CFoA will be focusing its efforts on reversing this trend. In terms of engagement, we can learn a lot from our sitting MPs who represent ethnically diverse constituencies and who know what it is in their local area that certain groups feel passionate about. CFoA will act as a conduit for those MPs, helping them to spread best practice to all Conservative candidates.
The Conservative party has come on leaps and bounds in terms of ethnic minority MPs since 2011, and our key focus will be on creating a representative party and putting forward a Conservative MP that is receptive to issues that affect the Afghan community.
On the international stage, CFoA will continually make the case for aid programmes in Afghanistan to be continued, with the appropriate accountability measures, and focused on those areas with the highest levels of deprivation. As Sir Nicholas Kay recently stated at the Queen’s Birthday Party in 2018, the UK-Afghanistan relations are in extraordinarily good shape: vigorous, healthy, long-standing, and yet modern.
In a country where approximately 54 per centof the population live below the food poverty line, nearly half of Afghan children do not attend a school, and half of the adult population are illiterate, we as Conservatives must help those who have less opportunity to strive for a better life; a chance at building a meritocratic society should surely be the aim of every Government that has fairness at its heart.
With our mission statement and objectives clear to see, Conservative Friends of Afghanistan is indeed fortunate to have Sir Michael Fallon and Tom Tugendhat as Patrons. We are also proud to have Rory Stewart as an adviser to the group. It is through a combined effort that we will be able to lead delegations of MPs and peers out to Afghanistan, and hold the seminars and events in the UK that will further cement CFoA as a significant force within our Party structure.
There is a long road ahead in terms of reaching our goals contained in our mission statement, but with a clear focus on community engagement and delivering on a consistent message of social cohesion, we must succeed in bringing the Conservative Party closer to those aspirations and beliefs that the British Afghan community hold dear.
If you are interested in getting involved in our organisation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.